GW must not fully reopen campus this fall

The coronavirus continues to spread across the country, and even states that initially succeeded in containing the virus are now seeing an uptick in cases – D.C. included. Despite the red flags, GW is continuing to plan for its students’ return to campus.

But the University’s current plan is dangerous. Even with restrictions, reopening campus means allowing more than 12,000 students from all around the world to potentially spread COVID-19 to their peers in residence halls, classrooms and the greater D.C. community. The educational experience is not optimal regardless of whether we take online or hybrid courses, but GW should always aim to keep its students safe first and foremost.

A safer option would be to open campus to a smaller number of students – like the first-year class – and hold most other classes online. This plan would follow the lead of D.C. peers Georgetown and American universities, which are allowing up to 2,000 undergraduate students back and up to 2,300 first- and second-year students back, respectively. These strategies prioritize safety and acknowledge that some students need to live on campus.

Georgetown’s reopening plan allows a maximum of 2,000 students to return to campus, including the first-year class, those with personal situations that make it unrealistic to stay at their current location and seniors who need to be on campus to fulfill a graduation requirement. Georgetown’s plan promotes safety, provides a place to stay for those who require one and honors its academic commitments. GW could follow suit to ensure those who need housing or are required to take some classes in person have a place on campus.

GW also needs to account for its relatively larger population and location in the District. The University runs on an urban campus in the heart of the city, while D.C. peers like Georgetown and AU have a distinct perimeter between D.C. and campus. Bringing all students back to GW would not only harm students, faculty and staff – Foggy Bottom residents would risk catching the virus. Officials also can’t expect students to stay in their rooms all semester long, as students may venture to stores or restaurants. GW needs to recognize the larger risk it could place on D.C. in bringing students back.

Preparing for a full return to campus also means packing students in residence halls. Georgetown is able to give each student their own room, while GW is reducing the overall number of beds in residence halls and limiting rooms to four people. That strategy does not ensure social distancing – one person could spread the virus to their three roommates, who could pass it on to their peers. As it stands, giving each student their own room is impossible unless fewer students are allowed on campus.

All universities campus’ reopening guidelines are dependent on students following the rules – but that is a mostly unreasonable expectation. In the past few months, young people have accounted for a significant portion of cases in the United States, and this behavior is unlikely to change just because students return to campus. Plans like GW’s, which depend primarily on student behavior as it proposes few strict guidelines to contain a spread, are unrealistic. Students will go to each others’ rooms and they will attend parties. If this is inevitable, having fewer students on campus would reduce the chance of a massive spread of the virus.

Like most students, I want to go back to campus. But GW’s current plan is not as safe as it could be because of the sheer number of students it allows to return. The University needs to err on the side of caution and plan for a limited return to campus.

Laya Reddy, a rising sophomore majoring in political science and music, is a columnist.

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